The United States prevented Dutch authorities from installing full body scanners before the suspected Christmas Day bomb plotter passed through security at Amsterdam’s airport, the Dutch government claimed today.
The Dutch claimed that they had been trying to install the machines for flights to the US since 2008 but had been blocked by US officials who wanted passengers to all destinations screened.
In light of the failed attack all passengers travelling from Holland to the US will now have to go through full body scanners the Dutch Interior Minister announced following discussions with the Americans.
Guusje ter Horst said the millimetre wave scanners that can see beneath passengers’ clothes will be in use at Schiphol airport within three weeks and remain a permanent fixture for all flights to the US.
Asked whether the new scanners could have prevented the suspected plotter, Umar Farouk Almutallab, from getting on the flight, Ms ter Horst said: “From the moment that you put in millimetre wave scanners then you would have been able to detect that he [Mr Almutallab] was carrying something on his body.
“We didn’t have this at the time and we know that metal detectors can’t detect explosive materials.
“The US didn’t want these put in exclusively for American flights but as a general rule across the airport. But we have discussed with the US so that all passengers will go through these body scanners before they board.”
A spokesman for the Dutch counter-terrorism department told The Times that discussions with the US about installing body scanners date back to last year.
The two countries were at a deadlock over their installation because the US didn’t want them exclusively for American bound flights.
But since the Christmas Day incident the “whole spectrum has changed” and US authorities have now agreed for the millimetre wave scanners to be introduced only for American flights, he said.
In the most recent foiled attack, Mr Almutallab passed through metal detectors while in transit at Schiphol from Nigeria to Detroit, the Dutch government said, but these did not pick up the 80g of professional explosive material he is suspected of having sewn into his underpants.
The Nigerian was travelling on an Italian passport and investigators are looking into why he was not on the list of potential threats.
“This suspect was on a list but this did not come to any light,” Ms ter Horst said, “We did not know that he was part of this list which was a US suspect list.”
She called for a single, global list of suspects to prevent terrorists falling through the gaps.
They are also investigating who he made contact with during the hours he waited for his flight to Detroit.
The explosive device was “prepared in a professional way, the way it was activated was amateurish” and the materials used had been used in previous attacks, the Dutch minister said.
It was only this and the actions of crew and passengers that prevented a “much bigger tragedy” of a successful explosion blasting through the aircraft’s fuselage, she added.
“We managed to (avoid) an international attack of an individual who tried to damage the lives of many innocent people, but we should not be frightened to travel because of this and we should not give in to the terrorists and stop travelling.”
It also emerged today that an unnamed Somalian man with the equipment to create an on-board explosion was prevented from getting on a plane heading for Dubai last month.
The man, who is in custody in Mogadishu but has not been named, was caught with powdered chemicals, liquid and a syringe that together could have caused an explosion.
The hallmarks bear similarities to the terrorist plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner.
Abdulahi Hassan Barise, a police spokesman, said the suspect was arrested before the Daallo Airlines flight departed on November 13. It was scheduled to travel from Mogadishu to the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then to Djibouti and Dubai.
Two international officials in Nairobi said Wednesday the incident is similar to the Detroit attack in that the Somali man had a syringe, a bag of powdered chemicals and liquid.
US officials are aware of the incident and hastening to investigate any possible links with the Detroit attack.
“Sharp Dressed Man” Helped Umar Mutallab on Plane Without Passport